Thursday, October 28, 2010

A couple of special links

Alas, I do not have any recipes to share at this moment. Though Nik made an impromptu dinner featuring a meatloaf that is both incredibly delicious and packed full of vegetables. I need to have him tell me what was in it, then I promise to post it up.

However, today I have some special links to share with you.
As you may or may not know, I have a deep devotion to dairy. It is hard for me to think of anything more sad than the idea of living a life of being lactose intolerant. My mom told me not long ago that I was lactose intolerant for the first few years of my life; which might explain the subconscious need to make up for lost dairy. My interest in dairy currently only extends as far as the consumption of it- though one of my life goals is to make artisan cheese. And artisan mustard. But that is another story.

You may not share my intense feelings about cheese and dairy, but I feel you will delight in some of the links that I am sharing today...
An entire blog. About cheese. I think it is sounds miraculous. She is a clever writer, so Midwestern that you can almost hear the accent through the text. There is nothing pretentious about it: just a person sharing their love for and experience in the dairy world of Wisconsin.
A festival in Wisconsin- where else?!- that features locally-made cheese. This year it is the weekend of my Dad's birthday, so I don't think I'm going to be able to make it. BUT- trust, I will find a way to be there in the years to come...

That is all for now. I needed to post these before I lost them!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My First Cake

Can you believe it? I've never made a cake before.
They scare me: entire blogs exist that mock the amateur crafting of a cake. Yes, ones like Cake Wrecks often make fun of the design and spelling aspects- but I still find myself nervous while thumbing through cake recipes. Oh, and my frosting is always a hot mess. SAD.

Add all these elements together and you will understand why I love making pies instead of cakes.

Yesterday, though, I decided that Nik's completion of the Chicago Marathon merited a little bit of celebrating: I brined and grilled a chicken from my grandfather's farm, made pumpkin biscuits, and fried sweet potatoes for dinner... all topped off with a cake! AS far as cakes go, I knew that if I attempted a multi-layer, filled cake for my first time- it risked being a mess. I had guests coming over and refused to disturb Nik's "cooling down" time after coming home from the marathon. So what kinds of cake are nearly impossible to mess up? Ones with a form other than a simple round... also known as BUNDT cakes.

A year or two ago, we got this beautiful Bundt cake pan from Williams-Sonoma, but it had since disappeared into the back of the "cake cupboard"- full of dozens of cake pans of various shapes and sizes. I pulled it out and whipped together this lovely cake (that was not originally a Bundt cake recipe)...

Carrot Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:
4 large carrots, grated
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground mace
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups canola oil or applesauce (I used the oil this time)
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
1 cup pecans

Over a sheet of parchment paper or a plate, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and mace. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, oil and orange zest and whisk thoroughly to combine. Stir in the carrots. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture until almost completely incorporated. Add the raisins and nuts and fold to mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the well-greased pan.

Cook at 350 degrees for about 45-50 minutes. Take a thin knife or bamboo stick to insert into cake- if it comes out dry, the cake is done. This Bundt pan didn't take very long.


1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup of white chocolate chips melted
2 TB butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
3/4+ cup of powdered sugar
2 TB milk

Mix together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, milk, and melted white chocolate until smooth. Then add the powdered sugar until it is the consistancy you desire- I wanted mine thin enough to drizzle, but thick enough to not just drip everywhere.

Et voila. Delicious and Beautiful Cake!

I should totally post pictures...

More Fall-like Food

I've been considering the following biscuit recipe for quite some time- on some days, the concept seemed like a fantastical combination. Other times I felt a little bit squeamish adding elements of pumpkin pie to a kind of food that I hold a little sacred.

You see, one of the most delicious and Midwestern dishes I can think of is fluffy buttermilk biscuits douced in a ladle-full of sausage chunks and gravy. Yes, several orders of McDonalds fries are probably more healthy and less full of various starches and fats- which is why you only consume it maybe once or twice a year. But that is clearly a tanget. I love biscuits- and almost all varieties of quick breads. As their name suggests, they are much quicker and easier than negotiating yeast bread recipes.

After sampling one straight out of the oven (PLAIN, mind you), I couldn't help but grab two or three more immediately.

Pumpkin Biscuits. WHO KNEW?!

9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice***
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup fat-free buttermilk
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons honey
1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, and salt in a large bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Chill 10 minutes.

3. Combine buttermilk and honey, stirring with a whisk until well blended; add canned pumpkin. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moist.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly 4 times. Roll dough into a (1/2-inch-thick) 9 x 5–inch rectangle; dust top of dough with flour. Fold dough crosswise into thirds (as if folding a piece of paper to fit into an envelope). Reroll dough into a (1/2-inch-thick) 9 x 5–inch rectangle; dust top of dough with flour. Fold dough crosswise into thirds; gently roll or pat to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut dough with a 1 3/4-inch biscuit cutter to form 14 dough rounds. Place dough rounds, 1 inch apart, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400° for 14 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan; cool 2 minutes on wire racks. Serve warm.

***I didn't have pumpkin pie spice. While at the store, I saw a small plastic jar (McCormick Brand) cost a whopping $6. Highway robbery! So I did some quick research and decided that about 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp allspice, a dash of ground cloves and another of mace- all substituted just fine. Granted, I do have the majority of the Penzeys store in the cupboards next to my range.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Magic of Lasagna

While I'm searching around in my head and on various cooking websites trying to find something delicious for dinner, I often find myself skipping over or dismissing "classics" like various casserole and one-pan/pot dishes that I had often while going up.

Yesterday I felt found a great recipe for a lasagna that wasn't your usual variety- nor did it stray too far from the classic kind. Unfortunately, to make an excellent and authentic lasagna, you have to have a significant chunk of time set aside. Between all of my work and practice, I barely have time to squeeze in 30-60 minutes of pilates or yoga... nevermind the 5-6 hrs of cooking and preparation required for this classic.

And yes, it does occur to me that I don't have food critics or native Italians sitting at my dinner table on a regular basis- or ever. So really, I shouldn't be too concerned about the consistancy of noodles or the texture of the filling. But why spend time cooking if you can't be proud of the final result?

So here is my adapted recipe of Sausage & Kale Lasagna. Quick, easy, delicious. *Be sure to read through before starting, I was trying to lay out the recipe in a coherent way- this one does allow you to multi-task fairly easily, so there are two parts.

3/4 pound of hot Italian sausage, removed from casing and broken up into small chunks
1 small onion chopped
5 cloves of garlic chopped into medium-sized chunks
1 bunch of kale (1- 1 1/2 lbs), chopped
1 TB fennel seeds- optional
1 TB chopped or crushed rosemary
1 TB olive oil

About 9 lasagna noodles
1 TB olive oil
Ricotta Cheese
Parmesan Cheese
Sharp Cheddar Cheese

In a medium or large pot over medium heat, cook the sausage thoroughly. While cooking it, I found it helpful to break it up into fairly small chunks- almost a crumble. Once cooked, put into a large mixing bowl.

*Meanwhile, start cooking the noodles and prepare about 2 minutes less than what directions on the box say. They will get done about the same time that you are done prepping the filling.

In pot used for cooking sausage, pour in 1 TB olive oil. Allow it to heat before adding the onions. While sauteeing the onions, I covered the pot with a lid for the first minutes to soften them and then uncovered them while I turned up the heat to medium-high in order to carmelize them. In this last part of the process, add the garlic. Once carmelized, pour onions and garlic into bowl with sausage. Mix all together with oregano, fennel, rosemary or whatever Italian herbs you would like. Cayenne or chili pepper would probably be an exciting way to make it spicy; you might also consider a little nutmeg.

In same pot, pour in about 1/2 cup of water and add the chopped kale. Turn down heat to medium and cook with lid over. The kale uncooked takes up a suprising amount of space, but will shrink considerable while cooking.

At this point, the noodles were done cooking for me. I poured into my collander and then rinsed with cold water so I could touch them without getting burned. In a casserole dish, I poured a little bit of olive oil at the bottom and then placed one layer of noodles.

Once the kale was cooked, I put a layer on top of the noodles and then spooned on a layer of the sausage and onion mixture. Then I added a bit of ricotta and shredded parmesan cheese before placing another layer of noodles and repeating the layering process. After the top layer, I put a little extra ricotta and parmesan cheese and then finally added the shredded cheddar cheese.

Put in the over for about 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.
E presto- dinner is served!

I only wish I had breadsticks and some bright fruit gelato to serve with...!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Convenient Food

Welcome to my lunch break:
Triscuits dipped into some of the left-over taco meat and cheese from the other night. And some of my salsa verde to go along with. Washed down with hot chocolate from the breakroom. Not exactly 5-star quality lunch, but it will do for today...

Inspired by my humble at-my-desk lunch, I felt like writing some ideas down for convenient food- that has nothing to do with McDonalds or Corner Bakery or whatever commercial perservative-filled food chain you resort to when short on time.

Quick Risotto. Using ingredients you probably have.

1/2 cup of arbiorio rice
3 cups chicken stock
3 TB butter
1/2 an onion chopped up into small-ish bits
4 gloves garlic chopped up
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp rosemary (fresh or dried)
*other assorted additions: mushrooms, chives, artichoke hears, cubed squash, parmesean cheese, asparagus, italian sausage slices, chicken, etc
*if you are the martini drinking type, and I am, you probably have some vermouth around, but it isn't necessary :)- couple splashes of vermouth

-In a medium-sized sautee pan that has a lid, melt the butter and sautee the onions until slightly browned; throw in the garlic cloves and sautee a little more until the garlic is softened and the onion has carmelized
-Add the rice and cook in the butter/onion/garlic mixture until slightly browned (I know, it makes it kind of like a pilaf- but I never said this was ultra-authentic-Italian risotto)
-Pour in the chicken stock and vermouth and cook with the lid on for about 8-10 minutes on medium-low heat

-In a small pan, melt a little butter and add whatever other veggies or meat you happen to have on hand. I had sliced chicken breast, fennel seed, rosemary, a little more garlic and artichoke hearts in a jar. After sauteeing all these together (making sure my chicken was thoroughly cooked), I added all these to the rice. I did save adding the chives to the end, considering how dainty chives are as a plant and flavor.

Once the rice was cooked along with my "additives," I went ahead and added finely-grated parmesean cheese. Because I think it is delicious. I also grated on top some nutmeg because I was feeling fancy.

All in all, it was a pretty quick/easy dish. Made enough for two people- or in my case, one person with some left-overs for the next day.
I need to sit down and think of more things like this that are delicious for dinner as well as the next day after a quick spin in the microwave. Pasta dishes don't always do well with the reheating- especially cream-based sauces. Today's mexican left-overs are yummy... I did add some more cumin to the meat before taking off today- and some sharp cheese.

When finding yourself in the world of Corporate America, occupied with a somewhat monotonous job (even if it is enjoyable), lunch is the time of day that you need something exciting. Sandwiches, soup, and salads can only be repeated so many times before going a little nutty...